jh-siesta.com December 11, 2017

Puerto Rico governor says contract to Whitefish company should be canceled

30 October 2017, 01:50 | Nellie George

Puerto Rican native Jose Martinez part of the USD men’s basketball team

Jose Martinez

The governor of Puerto Rico, the US territory that was devastated by a hurricane a month ago, called Sunday for the immediate cancellation of a contract to restore electrical power to the Caribbean island as questions grow about the small company that was awarded the work.

Whitefish Energy Holdings was awarded the no-bid contract by the beleaguered Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority on September 26, and the deal has drawn loud criticism since its specifics have trickled out.

Rossello said that at least $8 million has been paid to Whitefish so far, but "there can not be any kind of distraction that alters the commitment to restore electrical power as soon as possible in Puerto Rico". Some critics of the deal with the for-profit company say the island should have opted to use a mutual-aid network of public utilities that usually are called on for massive fix work after natural disasters. "Any attempts by the dishonest media or political operatives to tie me to awarding or influencing any contract involving Whitefish are completely baseless".

"As a result of the information that has been revealed and the need to protect the public interest, as governor I am asking the power authority to cancel the Whitefish contract immediately", Rossello said.

"Neither myself nor anyone in my office has advocated for this company in any way", he said, though he did note the company had contacted him "after the initial contract was awarded".

Ramos said he had not talked with Whitefish executives about his announcement. "This was something exclusively determined by the Puerto Rican government".

The company is headquartered in the town of Whitefish, the hometown of US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. The company only had two employees the day Hurricane Maria hit.

"The federal government as I said has nothing to do with this contract or the process", said White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

"We can't be responsible for what the others might do", the spokesperson said when asked about the line in the contract that said government agencies may not audit or review cost and profit elements.

Whitefish has said that its expertise working in mountainous terrain qualifies it for the job and that its business model calls for rapidly expanding using subcontractors. The Dallas-based company's founder and general partner, Joe Colonnetta, has contributed thousands of dollars to President Donald Trump and other Republicans.

"The White House is not aware of any federal involvement in the selection", White House spokesman Raj Shah said.

On Thursday, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce requested documents related to the contract from Whitefish.

But the industry plan may conflict with the goals of the federal control board that oversees Puerto Rico's troubled finances.

Ricardo Rosselló talks to students at Julio Selles Sola Elementary School during the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Tuesday.

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